Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: HuffPost Reviews <i>The Myth of Junk DNA</i> - Evolution News & Views

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Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: HuffPost Reviews The Myth of Junk DNA

In following the literature in which advocates for Darwinism review books by advocates of intelligent design, you come to be grateful for little things: when they get the name of the book right, when they give evidence of having read the book, when they do not grossly misrepresent the author's thesis or substitute a totally different thesis that they feel more comfortable answering.

On these points, writing on Jonathan Wells's Myth of Junk DNA at Huffington Post, John Farrell gets decent marks. Farrell, who also writes for Forbes, attempts a substantive review. Though there's a lot of malarkey in his article, it will appear serious to those who don't know the details.

Many of his supposed objections to The Myth of Junk DNA are points that Wells himself makes in the book. Jonathan never hides the fact that, for example, the functions for supposed Junk DNA that have been discovered represent just a fraction of all the DNA that was heretofore presumed to be useless clutter. Jonathan's emphasis is on the trend, the trajectory, of the scientific evidence.

The myth that comes under fire in Wells's book has been a staple of Darwinian apologetics. That no one can deny. Nor can they deny that the tactic of citing the clutter of junk in the genome as evidence of unintelligent design is now in fast retreat under the pressure of new scientific information. That is the point of Jonathan's book and it is unassailable.

Farrell's own review demonstrates the strategic retreat in action. He pulls the oldest trick in the Darwinian repertoire: When the natural selection/mutation mechanism is shown not be able to do what it's been advertised as doing, we hear about all the supposed wonder-working power of other mechanisms like genetic drift and neutral theory. Those are not especially useful in explaining adaptation. Less useful, in fact, than Darwin's mechanism.

Farrell claims that whether the genome turns out to be clutter-free or lousy with junk, it's all good. Either way, the Darwinian model would be confirmed:

Genomes with no junk, for example, do not necessarily imply intelligent design; they would fit quite well with the view of those biologists, like Richard Dawkins, who argue that natural selection really is the prime driver of evolution -- because if junk DNA really were functionless, presumably natural selection would have weeded out those organisms that have too much of it. Indeed, this has been the default assumption for many biologists since the discovery of DNA that does not encode proteins.

On the other hand, the presence of copious amounts of junk DNA fits well with those biologists who think the other mechanisms of evolution, such as genetic drift or the spread of transposable elements, are major drivers of genome evolution, and that much apparently useless DNA would pass on from one generation to the next, as long as it was not overly harmful to reproductive fitness.

This is not a trivial point. Wells never discusses anything other than natural selection. He carefully avoids the other mechanisms of evolution. One looks in vain, for example, of any account of genetic drift or neutral theory. It's not even listed in the index. Why? Perhaps because both of these mechanisms are highly stochastic, or random: the really unpredictable, chancy mechanisms of evolution that creationists object to the most. And pseudogenes are generated randomly.

Yes, it's the venerable principle of Darwinian theory that says: Whatever turns out to be the case is retrospectively recognized as having been exactly what the theory predicted. So the genome is mostly junk? Just what we always thought. Or rather, the genome is not junk at all? Yes, again, just exactly what we always told you.

Even on the smaller matter of what Dawkins predicted -- junk or not junk -- Darwinists want to have it both ways. Farrell says Dawkins would expect no junk, but Daniel Dennett wrote in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (p. 316) that "junk DNA" is, according to what Dawkins says in The Selfish Gene, what he would expect:

The presence of functionless DNA in the genome is no longer regarded as a puzzle. Dawkins' (1976) selfish-gene theory predicts it, and elaborations on the idea of "selfish DNA" were simultaneously developed by Doolittle and Sapienza (1980) and Orgel and Crick (1980).
Heads I win, tails you lose. It becomes, at a certain point, rather frustrating to try to argue with these people, even the better ones among them.


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